Monthly Archives: January 2014

Looking Forward

Why do we live here?!  Winter in Minnesota is an endurance test, not just physically but psychologically.  The best strategy for getting through the winter that I have found, besides a down parka with a cold temperature rating between -(ass-biting)º and -(life-threatening)º and some waterproof Sorels, is a strategy we mothers were instructed to use to break up children’s fights: distraction.

After all, what is winter but the classic fight known as “man vs. nature”?  And my nature is obsessive.  I get stuck on things, much like Sophie’s Ford Focus gets stuck in the snow piled up at the end of the driveway.  So to plow through this feeling of stuckness caused by the deadness of winter, I distract myself by looking forward.

Distractions can be found through travel and even I–the homebody–have some exciting travel plans during the next two months.  But for those of us on somewhat of a budget (which is why I’m still here, instead of wintering on Riviera Maya), there’s always time travel.  I’m not talking about actual time travel, involving time machines or other sci-fi contraptions, I’m talking about the lowest-tech version, consisting of looking forward to things on the horizon as spring approaches.

In four weeks, I will be attending “the largest literary conference in North America”, the annual AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) Conference and Bookfair.  This year’s conference is being held in Seattle, and is intended, according to the AWP website,  “…to celebrate the authors, teachers, students, writing programs, literary centers, and publishers of that region. More than 12,000 writers and readers attended our 2013 conference, and over 650 exhibitors were represented at our bookfair.”  Though the Pacific Northwest, like London, is not known for it’s cheery weather, a change of scenery always helps.  But the conference itself is a sunny, happy place for writers.

I attended my first and only AWP Conference in Chicago two winters ago.  By the end of the first, jammed-packed day of the 3-day conference, I broke down in tears.  I was overwhelmed with not only information, but also emotion.  It was the same feeling I had as a young Jew traveling to Israel for the first time and hearing Hatikvah (Israel’s national anthem) as the plane touched down:  I belong here.  These are my people. 

So much of the time I feel like an oddity.  As a writer, I sit alone in silence for hours at a time, coming in contact with few who do, or care about, what I do.  When people ask me these days,

“What do you do?”  I’m starting to summon up all my chutzpah and answer,

“I’m a writer.”

People are momentarily intrigued, but after about 30 seconds, they can’t think of a darn thing to say to me about my newly emerging occupation/identity.

Sophie and Howie will be home alone together while I head out west to mine for literary gold.  “Alone together” sounds like a contradiction in terms, but Sophie has become quite reclusive, as of late.

My ordinarily sociable daughter seems to be pulling away not only from us, but also from other people and things with which she used to be quite engaged.  She’s not depressed, and she’s not in any kind of trouble.

When I look at my own description of myself, from above, I see some possible clues to her detachment.

Our endurance is being tested right now, both physically and psychologically.  We’re stuck in winter, and not feeling close enough to spring.  And Sophie and I are still somewhat stuck in identities we’re outgrowing, while our new ones feel just out of reach.

As a senior in her second semester, she’s all but abandoned high school, yet hasn’t firmed up her plans for next year.  She’s leaning toward the University of Kansas (KU), but hasn’t heard from the U of M yet.  The future is beckoning, but the bridge between here and there is under construction.

It’s making her a little cranky.

Last night, I went down to say goodnight as usual.

“Don’t talk to me.  Bring me water.  And food.  And clean my room.”  at this point, even she started laughing.  Then she straightened up,

“I’m serious.”

“Wow!” I said.  “I’m going to put that in the blog”

“Get me the water and you can do whatever you want.”

I don’t usually use defaming her in my blog as emotional blackmail.  And I do ask for her permission on all quotes before posting.

The point is, I chalk up (or Rock Chalk, a KU Jayhawk reference, just trying it out) this ornery behavior to Sophie’s own feeling of stuckness.  We’ve discussed stuckness before, but being stuck in one of the coldest, snowiest winters in Minnesota’s history, does nothing to brighten our moods.

As spring approaches, Sophie will make decisions about her future that I hope will land her in a place where she’ll say, I belong here.  These are my people. 

The other spring fling Sophie and I have on the horizon is our spring break trip to Paris.  This trip is an embarrassment of riches for me; a trip to France, and a week alone (with limited cell phone use for Sophie?!) with my baby.  So another thing we’ll use to distract ourselves is planning our itinerary, watching Frenchie movies (her favorite is Amelie; she’s even learning a piano piece from the soundtrack) and counting down the weeks.

A feeling of being stuck can be eased by working toward where we want to go; both where we want to travel, physically, and who we want to become.

Sometimes, we need to employ the strategy of distraction while we are waiting to travel or become!  For instance, I’ve been working on a piece about yoga all this week (which is why I’m just posting today).  The yoga piece is one I’m submitting elsewhere, with hopes of publication.  My hopes for its acceptance are so high, I will have to distract myself for the rest of this month while I wait to hear my fate, by working on revising my thesis, choosing the courses I will take at AWP and designing new classes I’ve been invited to teach this spring for The Loft.

But I digress.  The reason I mentioned the yoga piece is that, while working on it, I was reminded of the importance of staying in the present moment that is so fundamental to yoga and other mindfulness practices.  This post, on looking forward as a coping strategy for stuckness, seems to fly in the face of staying present.   It also flies in the face of the intention I set for my mothering this year, that I’m chronicling in this blog.

In other words, how do we stay in the present moment–how do we honor, appreciate and savor it–if the present moment sucks a little bit (i.e. wintery weather, becoming instead of fully being)?  Or is there a way to fully live in the present, while also being energized by looking forward to future events and developments?

Try this; look out the window.  Notice the sunshine, and how it makes all this damn snow sparkle like Taylor Swift’s gown at the Grammy’s last Sunday.  Realize today’s the last day of January, and we’ve already picked up an hour of daylight this past month.  Know that we’re never as stuck as we may feel.  There’s always something to look forward to.  If you can’t see it, use this present moment to make it so.

That should distract you, for the moment, at least.

 

 

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Blessings in the Nude

I’ve never been a fan of the blessing in disguise.  I prefer my blessings stripped bare naked. Full-frontal blessings that leave nothing to the imagination.  Hard-core pornographic blessings.  I want my blessings to look like blessings and be immediately recognizable as such.  I don’t need the tease and the foreplay of the disguise.  I find the disguise frustrating.  It just kills the blessed mood.

When my husband left his job a couple weeks ago, the most common response from the most well-meaning people was that it was a blessing in disguise.

Around that time, I was looking forward to teaching my first class to adults at The Loft, but when my class didn’t completely fill and thus was cancelled, I suspected this might be another blessing in a dastardly disguise.

The truth is, as much as I wanted to make the leap from teaching kids to teaching adults, now is probably the worst time in my own schedule for me to be undertaking such a challenging new role.  I still have my thesis to finish at the same time this aborted class was scheduled to run.  As disappointed as I was that my class didn’t fly, I actually felt more relief than disappointment, since teaching on top of all this writing and revising would have surely put me on the brink of nervous collapse.

When I was a kid, I developed an effective coping strategy for living in a world that didn’t always cooperate by giving me exactly what I wanted when I wanted it.  If there was something I really wanted to happen, I would envision either outcome–either happening or not happening–and find things about either scenario that I could live with. For example, if I didn’t win the sought-after solo in the choir concert, I wouldn’t have to suffer the inevitable stage fright that would go along with it.

I utilize this technique to this day, but sometimes you just really want what you want; a blessing in the buff.

After I had Sam, my first child, I was hoping my second would be a girl.  Three years later when I had Nate, I didn’t appreciate his arrival for the  blessing in disguise that it truly was.  As it turned out, not only was I blessed with Nate, my Buddha boy, but also having a second boy lit a fire in me to go for a third child.  I was humbled beyond expression to have been blessed with my daughter, Sophie, completing the trifecta of my dreamed-about family.

Admittedly, in this and other cases, I thought I knew what I wanted, but what I got was even better.

So I understand the trickery involved in a blessing in disguise, but I still prefer my blessings straight-up or neat, not on the rocks or with a twist.

The expression “blessing in disguise” smacks of religiosity.  It implies order shrouded in chaos and an omnipotent commander at the controls.  The idiom is not “a random good thing ultimately coming out of a random bad thing”.  The expression contains the word “blessing” which is a God-centered concept. A blessing is defined as “God’s favor and protection”.  And this concept comes with all kinds of implications of our own human vulnerabilities.  It implies that no matter how much we want what we want, we often have little if any control over what we get.

But to suggest that we receive God’s favor and protection in disguise (“disguise” meaning the nature, identity or even existence of the favor is concealed), means that we receive this divine favor packaged in something much less attractive.  It’s like receiving a gift wrapped in garbage.  We’re forced to confront the slimy, smelly garbage and initially accept something we don’t want–something that disappoints or even hurts us–on the odd chance that there is a treasure hidden within.

Where do we find the grace to accept this unwanted package, to keep our chin up and acknowledge the giver, and to begin peeling back the layers in the hopes of finding the hidden treasure?  Even Cracker Jacks understood it’s better to stash the prize in sticky, sweet carmel corn.

That’s why I choose unadulterated blessings; they don’t make us dig for our rewards.  Who needs to work that hard?  Life’s hard enough as it is.

Blessings in disguise require faith–another spiritual concept–and trust.  If we aren’t buoyed by faith in God or some version of God, we can be comforted by the words made famous by Doris Day,

“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be”.

At the very least, we have to maintain trust in ourselves that we will weather life’s storms; that we will be able to manage whatever life throws our way.

We also have to be willing and able to let go.  We have to let go of all kinds of things we hold dear; our desires, our plans, some of our most closely guarded hopes and dreams and even our loved ones.  “Let go and let God” is the rallying cry of the blessing in disguise fan club.

Disguised blessings require we remain open to possibilities we may not have anticipated or considered.  They force us to suspend judgement of ourselves and our situations.  They make demands on us and test our characters.  To pass these tests, we must practice being resilient and brave.  We must adapt.

Masked blessings often take their sweet time removing their disguises, testing our abilities to delay gratification or to exercise our imaginations in order to embrace  different outcomes.  All the while we’re expected to remain optimistic about our futures, no matter what detours these masquerading blessings set up to confound us on our journeys.  We’re supposed to persevere.  We’re supposed to be patient.

I’m no biochemist, but I’m beginning to wonder if patience bonds with estrogen.  The older I get, and the more my estrogen levels drop, the more impatient I get.  Or maybe it’s not related to estrogen.  Maybe my impatience for things to go–or to STAY, as the case may be–the way I want comes from my growing awareness that as the years fly by I have fewer of them left.

One of the things I want to STAY the way I it is is that I want my children to stay near me.  Sam and Nate live in town and Sophie lives at home at least until this coming fall.  I want to see them regularly and in-person, not virtually.  I want to be able to touch them, to laugh with them–to be there with them and for them–even as they set up nests elsewhere.  Call me selfish.  I’ve heard it before.

My children entered my life by exiting my body, a unique delivery system not utilized by other blessings I have received.  And these three preeminent blessings came to me the way I ask that my blessings come to me; naked.  Something at the level of my DNA recognized them immediately as my own, as part of my being and as the most heavenly gifts I have ever been granted, regardless of whatever temporary hell each has put me through.

And now that my youngest prepares to leave the nest that I have so lovingly and dutifully tended for almost a quarter-of-a-century, I dare anyone to suggest that an empty nest is another in a lifetime of damnable blessings in disguise.

My friends with empty nests tout the joys and advantages of living in a house alone or with one other adult.  In a childless home, the grown-ups can run around like my favorite kind of blessing; naked!  (But if the kids are in town, I’ve found they sometimes show up unannounced!)

I’m trying to play the childhood game I developed, trying to see the positives in the negative space created as each of my chicks leave the nest.  I won’t have to wake up each weekday morning and engage in the wrestling match of getting anyone but myself out of the house.  I won’t have to structure my day around anyone else’s school, work, or activities schedules.  I won’t have to enforce rules, nag about homework or find dishes stashed in odd places around the house, growing technicolor cultures of mold. But I also won’t have daily, physical contact with my life’s most exposed blessings.

Emptying the nest stinks, like the garbage wrapping it comes in.  But as life continues to unfold, I will summon up the courage to release my final chick into the wild, counting among my blessings my memories of these busy years, my pride in my kids’ independence and hopefully the arrival someday, in nests nearby, of  blessed–and naked–grandchildren!

Jostens

Jostens conjures up the image of the iconic class ring, and the class ring is meant to conjure up school pride, but a class ring was not what I was after when I logged on to the Jostens website this morning.  As I finally sat down today–which is not just the deadline but the extended deadline–with the large, white Jostens packet Sophie brought home from school before winter break, I was looking to order my daughter’s high school graduation cap and gown.  In doing so, I was securing her place not only in her upcoming graduation ceremony but also in Milstein family history.

Speaking of history, Jostens is a Minnesota-based company founded in Owatonna in 1897 by Otto Josten as a watch repair business.  Class rings were first worn by West Point Military Academy graduates in 1835 but the high school ring tradition started, like Jostens, in Minnesota at Falls High School in International Falls.

In her Complete Book of Etiquette, Amy Vanderbilt even has something to say about class ring-wearing protocol,

For as long as the wearer is in school, the insignia should face the wearer to remind him/her of the goal of graduation. Upon graduation, the class ring gains the status of a “badge of honor” similar to a diploma, with the effect that graduation entitles the wearer to display the insignia facing outward so that it faces other viewers…

In addition to being a provider of class rings, Jostens is also a leading provider of Super Bowl rings and, though we’re not ordering Sophie a ring, her graduation is being heralded as the Super Bowl of high school accomplishments in this household.  As I have mentioned in the past, though both her brothers attended her high school, she is the first to go the distance and make it over the goal line to graduation.

The goldenrod banner across the front of the Jostens envelope reads “Class of 2014” Look inside for important graduation information.  Celebrate your year.”  In it is an 8.5 X 14, double-sided, 4-step order form with graduation packages starting at $24.95 and running up to $206.10 all plus $9.95 handling.  In a small box near the top it reads: Reminder: The School Pays for your Cap/Gown/Tassel Unit.  Then it goes on to offer a stunning array of add-ons to the basic packages, reminiscent of the add-ons offered by the senior portrait photographers we looked at last fall.

In addition to offerings of customized Official School Announcements, Party Invitations, and Thank-You Notes, Spinner Key Rings and the classic assortment of regalia, one item on the order form caught my eye.  It’s called the Parent Appreciation Plaque, sells for $27.95 and is inscribed,

TO MY MOM (I wonder how THE DADS feel about this)

On My Graduation Day 

My appreciation for everything you 

do often goes unspoken.

I’d like to thank you for all the 

encouragement, guidance, patience 

and understanding you have shown

me throughout my school years.

Thank you for teaching me the importance

of knowledge, and allowing me the 

opportunity to learn.

You’ve always been there

when I have needed you.

Love Always,

Your Graduating Senior

Class of 2014.

Do you mean to tell me that along with everything else available for purchase through Jostens, we can also order our own Appreciation Plaque?!  Darn right we can!  And it’s available in silver-tone plate on an espresso-finish wood frame, in English or Spanish.

I told Sophie I would be placing this order while she was away at school and that I was planning on ordering only the cap, gown and tassel the school pays for.  She’s used to my no-frills approach to such packages as I’ve made it a practice, since she was little, to order the rock-bottom “basic” package offered by Lifetouch, the other Minnesota-based, school-memories behemoth and school-picture monopoly.  I told her I’m not paying for any of the cheesy extras that come as part of the larger packages.  Call me unsentimental.  As I began to ramp up my argument on this point, she put a quick end to the conversation saying,

“Mom.  Stop.  We’re on the same page about this.”

She’s less sentimental than I am.

What I am feeling a little sentimental about is that both Sophie and I will be donning caps and gowns and marching down the aisles of our respective school’s graduation venues this spring.

The Parent Appreciation Plaque says, Thank you for teaching me the importance of knowledge.  For all the years that I’ve been distracted by the academic demands placed on me by my own continuing education, I’ve hoped the lesson I’ve been teaching my kids has been that of the importance of lifelong learning.  I’ll miss the school nights when my after-dinner battle cry was, “Now, let’s do our homework!”

Amy Vanderbilt finishes her thoughts on class-ring-as-badge-of-honor and the reason to wear it with the insignia facing out upon graduation as follows,

…An additional justification for this practice is the rationale that the ring also symbolizes the graduate him/herself: During the wearer’s time in school, s/he focuses on self-development and goals specific to the insular academic environment; upon graduation, the wearer enters the wider world and puts what s/he has learned to work in shaping it

Sophie and I are getting ready to follow our own 4-step process, just like the one on the order form:

  1. Finish strong.
  2. Toss caps into the air.
  3. Enter the wider world.
  4. Put what we have learned to work in shaping it.

Severance

The beginning of a new year is a time of renewal but this year began with Howie not renewing his contract with the company he’s been presiding over for the past nine years.  As with the end of any relationship, things are complicated and I am not here to discuss Howie’s business particulars.  But I noticed some things, as Howie parted company with his company, that had me reading the fine print on my particulars.

My contract as active mother to three children is coming to an end. Whether a mom realizes it or not, her tenure is limited and she clocks in with the birth of her first child.  Our job is to work ourselves out of this job, to develop our products only to release them into the bustling marketplace of life.

The active phase of motherhood ends with the most personal form of severance–short of amputation–and the severing is not eased by any parting bonuses, outplacement assistance or continuing health care coverage.

Jobs outside the home, in contrast, are mutually negotiated.  Employees usually choose to come and go.  Employers can terminate employees’ contracts, but as mothers we routinely receive our pink slips at the end of our children’s growing up years.  We have no say in our dismissal.

Now, I can already hear the arguments against these statements, and of course I’m making gross national generalizations.  I know I will always be my kids’ mother and that they will always need me.  I will strive to inspire them keep me on permanent retainer.  I will be happy to continue on as a consultant in their lives and to provide any other services my job entails, indefinitely.  I see my grown-and-flown sons regularly and, on the other end of the parenting spectrum, I still need my own mother.

But there are some key points I am working towards in my presentation here, if you will allow me to continue.

As news of Howie’s changed status with his company–a company he poured his whole self into–spread, he was immediately inundated with phone calls, emails, and texts of overwhelming love, appreciation and support.  Since his ex-company is based in Europe, and Howie managed the North and South American divisions, when I say he received messages from all over the world, I mean that literally.  Though the decision to leave the organization he built from the ground up (on these continents) was a difficult one, the outpouring of support was a form of exaltation.

Howie describes the effect this tidal wave of support has had on him as feeling like he has died and is being allowed to enjoy his own eulogy.  The end of anything, especially something as all-consuming as a full-time job, is a death, of sorts.  And no matter how bright the future appears, the end of a job we have been passionate about is a loss that can’t be minimized or ignored.

Howie says the people he worked with everyday were like family to him, and leaving them will be a huge loss.  For me, my primary work is my family, which IS family to me.

My job as mother with children in my home ends when Sophie goes off to college this coming fall.  My job as mother to my children ends the day I die.  Both are terminations I see on the horizon, and the former feels like a hint of the latter.

Termination is different from retirement.  Again, termination implies one side is ready for the relationship to end but the other is not.  Retirement sounds lovely, with it’s implications of the completion of a job well done and an end to the daily grind.  I see the end of my active mothering as a termination, though I’m working on seeing it as a retirement.  Either way, I’m not expecting the gold watch to be awarded to me this fall.

About a week ago, when I went down to Sophie’s room to say goodnight and linger as long as she would let me, unexpected tears welled in her eyes.

“I feel so weird,” was all she could offer by way of explanation for these tears out of nowhere.

“I feel so stuck.  Everyday, I go to school, then I go to nanny.  Pretty soon, I’ll go to college, then I’ll get a job, then I’ll get married and I’ll have kids…This is not why I’m here.  This is not why I’m here.

Her whole future must have flashed before her making her feel relegated to a predictable path full of drudgery; much as she must see my life!  She doesn’t know, yet, that though the path she’s describing looks full of predictability and drudgery, the flipside of those attributes is stability and a deep sense of love, connection, belonging and even purpose.  For what it’s worth, this family I have worked to create answers, in large measure, my question Why am I here?

Families involve risks and rewards.  And as I said earlier, Sophie can choose to pursue this line of work, some other type of employment, or a combination of both.

Why am I here?  is a question we humans often ask ourselves.  When we’re young, like Sophie, we may have a vague sense that our lives hold so much promise; that our purpose in this life is grand and even glamorous.  When we work outside the home, our work is judged on various scales of importance: How much money do we make? How closely does our work match our passions? How much of a difference do we feel we’re able to make through our work in the world?

The question Why am I here?  is related to another important question, Who am I?  And both of these questions get answered, in part, through the jobs we do, both inside and outside of our homes and families.  Sometimes, we get enough feedback from ourselves, as we privately monitor the jobs we’re doing in the world.  With most jobs, however, much of the feedback is external.  We can measure the job we’re doing against certain rubrics, and our performance is measured for us by bosses, employees, coworkers, customers, our industries and the like.  And our results are usually evident relatively quickly.

With motherhood, feedback can be scarce, disproportionately negative, and if not negative, open to interpretation.  What I mean is, if I’m doing a decent job with my kids, I can tell because I’m not getting complaints.  Rarely do I get an unsolicited, “Good job, mom!” on any of a myriad of tiny, mundane tasks I perform daily that constitute my job description.

And as I near the end of my employment, with my last child appearing to be biding her time until she can sever my daily meddling in her life–with my talking too much and asking too many questions, all my directing and nagging–I don’t have the fond farewell in store for me that Howie is enjoying as he transitions into his new job.

I do not anticipate Sophie sending me heartfelt notes about how my leadership in her life transformed her personally and professionally; that she is a different and better person, all thanks to my extraordinary mentorship over the years of our work together.  I don’t expect that she will enthusiastically offer to write me letters of recommendation as I move on to fill my days with work that doesn’t revolve around her.  She certainly won’t have to recommend me to anyone she knows who needs the quintessential mother to lead their in-house operations.  And I’m definitely not getting a lavish going-away luncheon with tribute speeches full of fond memories and well-wishes for my future success.

As timing would have it, Howie, Sophie and I are all finding ourselves in transition at the same time.  For each of us, the work we have grown proficient at is ending but our new occupations aren’t fully in view.  Howie’s not exactly sure which offer he’ll go with, professionally.  Sophie hasn’t heard from all the schools she’s applied to for next year.  And I, well, I hope to make a full transition into the world of writing and teaching once my days become more fully my own, but there are other functions I’d like to perform that I have yet to figure out.

I find solace in having participated in the launch of three, good-hearted, loving human beings into the world, which has answered for me, in part, Why am I here?  Mothering has helped me become clearer about who I am, even though those hard-to-articulate and nuanced answers will probably not end up on my resume. 

Hot (flashes) and Cold

As this rare “polar vortex”, coming straight from the North Pole, continues to bear down on us resulting in the coldest temperatures to grip the Midwest in 17 years, I have discovered the single most effective means for staying toasty in the bone-chilling cold: hot flashes.  Dressing in layers and sipping warm liquids, as the experts suggest, are mere kid stuff compared with the blazing rush of the perimenopausal flush.

Up until a few weeks ago, I felt a slight, smug superiority over women my age who fanned themselves in public with whatever was available, or became red-faced and moist around the hairline, peeling off clothes, and all but “stop, drop and roll”-ing.

Such behavior seemed so unladylike though, ironically, it’s the ladies who are exhibiting it.  The word “matron” comes to mind, since a matron is a middle-aged woman.  Yet the definition of matron also includes the word “dignified”.  Even though technically I fit the description of a matron, I was sure that my youthful attitude would put this particular “change of life” off indefinitely or allow me to avoid it completely.  But then again, up until a few weeks ago, my Olympic Gold Medal performance in the Denial competition had me believing that this year we wouldn’t get our usual snow or cold, either.

Wrong and wrong.

The convergence of these two brutal forces of nature–one external and cold, one internal and fiery–at the moment, seems well-timed on my body’s part.  As I’ve gotten older, it seems I’ve gotten colder.  Notice how “cold” is just “old” with a “c” in front of it.  To be young is to be “hot”.  So now I’m telling myself that it’s sultry to shed all those layers of polar fleece and wool.  In previous winters, temperatures in the double-digits below zero would have made me come undone.  Now I’m just undoing my clothing.

But the advantage of running warmer in an especially frigid winter is, unfortunately, a small consolation.  I would have been happier using a space heater.  Instead, I am one.

Whenever I’m not feeling my own heat, I’ve got the heat of a rising cabin fever around here to contend with.  And with schools closed for going on two-and-a-half weeks now, the collective cabin fever must be reaching the boiling point in homes and communities across our otherwise “nice” state.

Though now I have a biological way of coping with the cold, coping with almost anything else has become my biggest challenge.  Coping requires sleeping through the night.  And sleeping through the night, an ability I have taken for granted since Sophie started sleeping (hence allowing me to sleep) through the night almost 17 years ago, has been snatched from me like so many bedcovers during an acute bout of night sweats.

Sleep deprivation is the newest bitch in my house.  It makes even the most well-practiced tasks, like forming complete sentences, nearly impossible.  Writing a blog post, for instance, has suddenly become a daunting exercise.  What used to take hours is now taking days.

During this arctic-express weather we’ve been having, the meteorologists have been referring to the “feels like” number, which is the combined total of air temperature and windchill.  The past couple days “feels like” number has hung somewhere in the life-threatening range of 40-60 below zero.

The “feels like” number during a hot flash should be calculated by combining the spike in perceived body temperature (up in the ranges of molten glass) with the anxiety resulting from the surprise of a sudden ambush.  The perimenopausal woman is often overcome by a prickly, dizzying sensation that spreads through her body like a brushfire with all the warning of an explosive grease fire.

Through the preliminary research I’ve conducted (when I can focus long enough to remember what I’ve set out to do), I have learned there is no accepted explanation for exactly what causes these sudden heat surges.  You can bet that if men suffered such oppressive bouts of sweating–outside of strenuous exercise or sex–someone would come up with a causal understanding and put an end to these nuisance rampages in a flash.

I did find a list of things to avoid in order to minimize episodes:

  • Stress
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Tight clothing
  • Heat
  • Cigarette smoke

So, it appears I am one cigarette-smoking-habit short of a complete violation of this list.  The historic cold, which adds “woman vs. the elements” to the list of battles I wage each day, is stressing me out.  I’m drinking more coffee than ever to fight off the urge to sleep like a sloth throughout the day since I no longer sleep through the night.  I’ll be having an alcoholic beverage tonight, with the spicy chili I’ve made to warm up my family’s insides (in contrast to me, they are thermoregulating normally), and am wearing the same pair of fleece-lined tights I’ve been wearing for days (and now wish I’d bought every pair of, at T.J. Maxx, before this cold snap hit).

Treatment for hot flashes is limited, and has largely consisted of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).  Treating the symptoms is most commonly advised.  “Wear light clothing” is at the top of most of the lists of management strategies.  “Wear no clothing” has worked best for me.  Howie and I were watching a movie the other night, and when we paused for a bathroom break, he came back to find me with all my clothes ripped off and strewn across the bed.  He was intrigued, until I asked him to give me a minute to let the sweating subside.  This is just another reminder that we are moving from the good old days to the just plain old days.

The “…first and only non-hormonal, FDA-approved treatment for moderate to severe hot flashes associated with menopause” is called Brisdelle, and is a form of anti-depressant.  I could definitely use an antidepressant right about now.  Here’s verbiage from the drug’s website:  “Brisdelle contains a lower dose of paroxetine, a medicine also used to treat a number of psychiatric disorders”.  The main side effect of this medication appears to be suicidal thoughts and actions, but too many more sleepless nights and the outcome could be the same.

Ultimately, the most chilling aspect of this onset of hot flashes is the undeniable realization that, in a biological sense, my fertile days are waning.  Like the frozen landscape outside, my inner landscape will be, to use a biblical term, barren.  Whatever I choose to create going forward will not require insemination.

It’s funny how many of us start our fruitful years worrying about accidental pregnancy (Sophie; let’s keep talking about this one), then move into praying for healthy pregnancies, and suddenly we arrive at the stage where pregnancy is no longer an option.  A polar vortex settles into our once reproductive, life-giving plains. The true emptying of the nest often involves closing up both a room and a womb.